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Troops Prowl Embassies, Streets During Asylum Talks

December 27, 1989

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ The head of the U.S. Southern Command discussed Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega’s fate with the Vatican ambassador Tuesday, and Panamanians returned to work after a week of fighting.

The Vatican Embassy, where Noriega sought asylum Sunday, was ringed by U.S. troops. In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the Bush administration told the Vatican ″very directly″ it wants Noriega returned to the United States to stand trial on drug charges.

Sources in Rome said the Vatican would rather hand him over to another country, but one of those countries mentioned, Spain, has denied Noriega political asylum.

Noriega was toppled Dec. 20, when U.S. forces invaded and President Guillermo Endara was sworn in.

There was a flurry of activity at the embassy starting at noon, when Gen. Maxwell Thurman, in charge of all U.S. forces in Central and South America, drove up with a caravan of sedans, jeeps and armored personnel carriers.

Monsignor Sebastian Laboa, the papal nuncio, emerged three times over the next three hours and conferred with Thurman on the street. Thurman waited in his car during pauses between talks.

Troops also surrounded the Cuban Embassy, in a downtown sector where other embassies are based and where fighting erupted Monday night. The city was quiet Tuesday.

Angel Pino, the spokesman for the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington, charged Tuesday the U.S. soldiers were refusing Cuban diplomats the right to leave or enter the embassy and the ambassador’s residence.

The State Department denied it, saying U.S. forces ″do not intend to prevent normal diplomatic activity by Cuban personnel.″

Later, a State Department press officer, Mark Dillen, said the U.S. forces might ask Cuban personnel for identification but there has been ″no prevention of entry or egress″ at the embassy.

U.S. forces had encircled the Cuban, Nicaraguan and Libyan embassies to prevent Noriega from seeking asylum there.

As the asylum talks went on, U.S. military sources said they quelled scattered fighting from Noriega loyalists and made arrests.

Crews began picking up mounds of garbage, and roadblocks erected to halt looting were coming down. The normal traffic snarls of this seaside capital of 1 million were back, worsened by U.S. troops blocking some major streets.

Many stores that had not been looted bare reopened, but most basics remain in short supply. Taxi drivers, most of whom live in the poorer and most heavily looted sections of the city, seemed particularly adept at finding goods not available over the counter.

Fifteen tons of emergency medical supplies have arrived, and civilian aid groups are due in to help with the distribution.

The first vice president, Ricardo Arias Calderon, called for public employees to return to work Tuesday and many did, although it was not possible to determine how many.

In Rome, sources said the Vatican would probably allow Noriega to go into exile in another country rather than hand him to the United States. They have no extradition treaty with the United States and the Roman Catholic church has criticized the U.S. invasion.

The Vatican’s deputy spokesman, Monsignor Piero Pennacchini, said contacts were being made between the newly installed Panamian government, the United States and the Vatican.

Spain and the Dominican Republic have been mentioned as possible refuges, but the Spanish government said it would not take the fallen general. Noriega has a daughter married to an army officer in the Dominican Republic.

The whereabouts of Noriega’s wife, Felicidad, and two of his three daughters, Sandra and Lorena, are not known.

A State Department source in Washington said the United States had demanded ″in extraordinarily tough terms″ the Vatican turn Noriega over to U.S. custody.

But Fitzwater declined to rule out the possibility that some other option might be under consideration.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Terrence Kneebone said the United States should get custody of Noriega because ″this is a criminal case.″

Army Lt. Col. Jerry Murgia said 440 Noriega loyalist troops and about the same number of weapons were captured in airborne assaults Monday on David, 200 miles to the west, and La Palma, southwest of Panama City.

He also said Noriega’s intelliegence chief, Col. Guillermo Wong, surrendered Monday. Wong had been arrested after a coup attempt in October but had been released.

A few arrests were made Tuesday, including people who reportedly had identification papers from Noriega’s Defense Forces. Nearly all of the 15,000- member force had surrendered.

U.S. troops also surrounded and searched the house of Noriega’s mistress, Vicky Amado, in a plush section of the capital a short distance from the Vatican Embassy.

The Southern Command put American casualties as of Tuesday at 23 dead and 330 wounded since American troops invaded.

Panamanian figures were listed as 293 dead, 123 wounded and 4,446 detained.

Panamanian doctors said more than 100 civilians were killed and hundreds more injured. Dozens of unidentified civilian casualties have been buried in common graves and many remain to be buried, hospital sources said.

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